A while ago, in the refuge, I met a young woman with her mum. She’s 16. and when I met her she was shut down. Closed face, hardened. Staunch.
Things happened, and her mum has disappeared, so she’s living, with her sister, with a caregiver – a wonderful older woman, with a large family who have taken the girls in, and made them their own. And I have also made her my own, with her permission.
I’ve been in her life now for a little over two months, and I wanted to tell you about a special day that we had a couple of days ago. After a big shopping day we had a few weeks ago, her caregiver alerted me to T’s need for glasses. I promised I’d organise it, and then got hectic busy. Her caregiver didn’t let me forget though, bless her, and so a few days ago I found a local optometrist and made an appointment.
I went to T’s school to pick her up, and waited a while for her. When she walked up, and saw me, her face immediately broke into a huge grin. And mine did too. She’s such a joy, and I am incredibly in awe of her, and her spirit.
As soon as we got in the car, she said: How have you BEEN? I’ve missed you! And I reciprocated, because I had missed seeing her lovely face. And it struck me that the question itself was an indicator of what a rate of knots she’s forging ahead at.
I took her to lunch, and we sat and ate and talked. We talked about her counselling and how that was going, we talked about her mum as T starts to process why her mum has done what she’s done. We talked about her spirit, her mauri. How powerful her’s is. How kickarse. How much I admire her.
And then we talked more about her sister, about what it means to look after people, be responsible when you’re not really ready.
We walked into the optometrist and sat down. T looked really unsure, as she always does with new people, and in new situations. But they put her completely at ease. All pālagi women, they fussed over her just enough, and not too much. They gave her agency – could see she was nervous and invited her to look at frames while she was waiting. She is still not confident in decisions she makes, but every time she makes another one, says the word NO she emboldens. Finally a pair was chosen – I don’t want to look too nerdy, she said – and they were lovely too. Makes you look like a very smart confident woman, I said. She grinned.
When it was time for the eye test, the optometrist immediately put her at ease. Chatting away, but not too much. Looking at her directly, speaking to her gently ( I had asked for someone who would be gentle with her). And I could see T visibly relaxing in the chair. The whole time the testing was happening, all the fiddling around that happens, the optometrist constantly checked in with her – are you okay? You’re doing so well! – and it seemed to take a very short time indeed, compared to eye tests I’ve had in the past. She told her stories of not being able to see when she was a child, how glasses had made her life so much easier, what a great tool they were. She also asked her about her friends – were they going to accept her with glasses? Were there any other kids in her classes with glasses? Made her aware that the glasses would have a blue tint to protect her young eyes from UV, and that some of the kids would find that a bit weird. T thought about it, decided her friends would be okay, that enough kids had glasses at her school for it not to be a problem – and she gave her a couple of lines to say if anyone gave her a hard time. This is what she told her to say, and I could cry just thinking about it: “My glasses mean I am more powerful than ever.”. T grinned so hard, I thought her face would crack. “They’ll understand that” she said.
The optometrist talked to her about what sort of sight she had, how easy it was to deal with, and how it presented no problem at all. By this time, T had completely relaxed with her, and we were done. We agreed that when the glasses were ready that they would text T, her caregiver, and me, and that I would be the one to bring her to collect them. The optometrist asked to see the frames and exclaimed at how great they were. ” I haven’t seen those ones yet! They’ve only just arrived.” And T said, so proudly “I chose them by myself”. Such a simple statement, with so much meaning to all of us.
I gave the optometrist a hug as thanks, and feedback, and she said to me very quietly: She’s a very very special young woman.
I had tears in my eyes when she said that. Because she’d seen. She knew what all of this meant. How smart T is, and how hard school has been for her. How not being able to see properly has impeded her schoolwork and the teacher’s understanding of her intelligence. What a difference these glasses are going to make to T’s confidence. She saw all of it in a very short time.
As we walked out, all staff waving to us and telling us what a pleasure it had been, T’s smile remained on her face. “Well, that went VERY well” she said. I agreed, and as we walked out of the building, and saw a chemist, I said to her “I wonder if they have earrings in here”, and they did. She chose a very smart pair – subtly hanging little squares of glass. She didn’t put them in – her ear piercings are still relatively new and she wants to do the right thing – but she told me that with the glasses and the earrings, she reckoned she’d be unbeatable. I think she’s right.
You know, I talk to so many women in a day’s work. I hear their pain, and often see it too. I empathise and relate. But I don’t carry their sadness. I seem to have heard most of it before, and am able to let it go, not my pain.
But this child, and others like her. This child, so smart and wise. So kind, and thoughtful. This child who isn’t a child. This young woman. She is imprinted in my heart now. Anyone who meets her sees her light immediately, and that makes their world better. What a privilege to get to know her. She gives me so much hope, and makes my eyes bright with love. I see so much clearer when I’m in her company. That she’s so open with her feelings, and so wanting to express them. I asked her if she believed everything I’d told her about who she was: smart, kind, powerful, affecting. She turned to me immediately, and said yes. We could all learn from her.